Monday, August 9, 2010

Things I've Learned - Food & Cooking

An interesting development over the past couple years: I really like to cook.

I wouldn't call it a passion. Heavens, no. Sometimes I'm just too lazy. But a couple of days a week at least finds me doing more than just throwing together a sandwich or tapping into the frozen foods section of my aunt and uncle's garage. And I'm having fun with it.

Now, I am certainly not a natural. There has been lots of trial and error and sometimes things just bomb. I wish I could mean that literally, but alas, there have been no explosions to date. Still, I've played around. I've discovered stuff that doesn't work and I've discovered stuff that blows my mind. It's been super fun. And so, I thought I would present you with a few things I have learned about food and cooking. You may very well know all this stuff already. Consider it more of a recitation than an imparting of advice. Let's all celebrate - Erica's not a food idiot anymore.

Things I've Learned:

- Do not dare use fruit that may not be ripe, and I mean that. Mangoes especially, speaking from very recent experience. (Gooseberries are the only exception I can think of, as they are only used before they turn ripe, but there may be more.)

- Plain rice is kinda tasty. Yeah ok, look at me like I'm insane. Whatever man, I'm serious. And maybe it's the varieties I've been using. But befriending the Chinese community has taught me to appreciate rice for what it is. I ordered a general chicken rice bowl the other day and my jaw almost dropped in horror watching the bucket of sauce the girl unloaded on it.

- If you don't like something, look for a different way to cook it. Even the texture of a food can change depending on preparation. There are so many foods (not just vegetables) that I hated growing up because my parents only cooked them the same way. I won't lie - I'm still waiting to appreciate bell peppers in any capacity. But you shoulda been there the day I discovered grilled asparagus wrapped in bacon.

- Grilling anything that holds its shape is probably a good idea. Just don't ask me about methods. I actually have very little experience in this area.

- You CAN have too much sauce. You CAN have too much gravy. HOWEVER, I have yet to experience "too much cheese."

- When cooking pasta, "not enough" is always better than "too much." Always. Neither, of course, can beat "just right."

- Dull knives are super obnoxious. Seriously. They take the joy out of life, the universe, and everything.

- Stir-frying is one of the quickest and killerest ways to cook. Especially if you have a good sauce. For example, you can take basic teriyaki sauce (I make my own; it's so effing simple) and add stuff like minced garlic or minced ginger or crushed red pepper or ALL of those things. Or something completely different. Teriyaki is BOSS when it comes to experimenting.

- Experimenting is always good. It's how you learn.

- Food really does seem to taste better if it looks pretty. It's not a sham. Crappy-looking food can be amazing, don't get me wrong, but I get more excited about eating something if I've managed to make it look good. The more colors, the better.

- When trying something new (which should be done often), start small until you're familiar with its effects. Perfect example - wasabi. Oh holy Moses. That s***'s dangerous.

- Do NOT try to create any dish that uses raw fish if you live in a landlocked area, UNLESS you are willing to pony up some serious cash. Carpaccio, tartare, sashimi, tataki, etc., only work if you're using super-fresh fish, and that's hard to come by in the American Midwest (freshwater fish are almost never used for these dishes for safety reasons). Sushi made with thawed frozen salmon fillets from Walmart is pretty disgusting. Just trust me on this one. Find a sushi recipe that does not require raw fish, or else simply leave it to the people at the restaurants.

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